All posts by Eric Zweig

And Then Your Life Turns Upside Down

One year ago next Tuesday – on March 12, 2018 – Barbara was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Five months to the day later, she was gone. The truth is, that’s four months longer than we expected at first. A friend of my mother’s had just recently been diagnosed with cancer and died within three weeks. We pretty much thought the same thing would happen … even though they told us that pancreatic cancer isn’t the death sentence it used to be.

It may not be. But it ain’t great.

Barbara and I are both researchers. We each found out very quickly that the statistics show close to 75 percent of patients still don’t survive the first year. Plenty of people told us stories about friends who were alive 10, 12, 14 years after their diagnosis. But the numbers show less than 10 percent get that kind of time.

That’s not the only reason Barbara was pessimistic.

For one thing, she never felt like she was going to have a long life. I don’t really know why, except that many of her relatives died young. More than that, she just hadn’t been feeling well for long enough that it was easy to believe she’d been sick for awhile. It wasn’t anything dramatic. Often just low energy. But, nearly a year earlier, at the end of March in 2017, her doctor thought she’d found something she didn’t like. Barbara researched that too, and the only thing it could be at her age was cancer. She also expected the worst then, but it turned out, after a few tests and three weeks of anxiety, that it was nothing at all.

Then, just a couple of months later, in June, Barbara’s blood sugar levels shot up.

“You’ve got diabetes,” her doctor said.

Barbara always knew she might. Her father was a diabetic, and, I think, others in the family were as well. Doctors had always told her she was likely to develop it, so there was little reason for doubt. It wasn’t so bad that it would require insulin or other medications. She just needed to modify her diet and get more exercise.

Houses
To keep herself motivated, Barbara began to take pictures with her phone of
the houses and gardens she’d pass on her walks. She’d post them on Facebook.

Barbara ate about as little as any person I’ve ever known. Apparently, she’d always been a bad eater. It was a constant source of anxiety for her parents when she was little. But she did like to eat candy; peach rings and jelly beans. Ice cream too. Now, she cut it all out, cold turkey. And she started to walk. Every day. Three to five kilometers. Her weight came down, and her blood sugar normalized.

By August, Barbara had lost about 20 pounds. She was feeling better than she had for years. And she looked great! But then, when she hoped to stop losing the weight, and just maintain it, it kept coming off. Nothing too startling at first. I didn’t even notice. But a pound or two pretty regularly. She was sure that something was wrong … but it’s hard to get anyone to take weight loss seriously.

“What, you can’t keep the pounds on…? Wish I had that problem! Ha, ha.”

At the end of February in 2018, Barbara got the flu. (It was a bad year for the flu last year.) Her case wasn’t too terrible, but after she got better, the weight melted off. There were other problems too. And now she was really starting to look sick. So, on Friday, March 9 (I was in Brampton, giving an author talk to school kids), Barbara had a friend take her to the hospital. She waited forever in Emergency. So long, that I was back home and spent the last couple of hours with her.

“It’s going to be bad,” she kept saying. Trying to prepare me. I didn’t think so.

“It’s just the diabetes. It’s not properly under control. You cut out the candy, but you never really replaced the calories. You’re just not eating enough. We’ll get it figured out.”

Happy
After three months of walking, Barbara was feeling great – and looking great!

Unless the young doctor who finally saw us that day was the best actor in the world, she thought the same thing too. She filled out some forms to enroll us in the diabetes education program at the hospital. But she also wanted us back at the hospital on Monday so they could run a few tests. “Just to rule out anything else.”

So, we went back to the hospital on Monday afternoon, March 12, for an ultra sound and a CT scan. They told us that, since the tests were ordered by an Emergency Room doctor, they would have the results for us in Emergency … if we wanted to wait. It was another LONG stay, but how could we not?

“It’s going to be bad,” Barbara said again.

I still didn’t think so. Even when they asked her if she had someone with her for the news, I wasn’t too worried. “It’s just going to be a lot to take in,” I said. “There’ll be a lot they need to tell you, and they want to know you’re not alone.”

I think she may have told me I was being naive.

I guess I was. But that changed a short time later.

We were still sitting in Emergency, waiting, when the triage nurses changed shifts. I watched as the new one coming on duty looked around the room while the old one explained the situations with the various patients. I couldn’t hear anything, but the way they looked at us, it was obvious this was going to be bad.

Barbara went up to them.

“I can see it in your faces. It’s something bad. Can’t you just tell me?”

They apologized, and said it had to be a doctor. But, yes, it was going to be bad.

It wasn’t too much longer before a doctor finally took us inside. It wasn’t the type of room they normally take you to in Emergency. It was a small office.

He didn’t sugar coat it: “We can’t be 100 percent sure yet. You’re going to have to come back for more tests. But the only thing it really could be is pancreatic cancer.”

I don’t think we had any questions for him. It was too soon, and even Barbara seemed shocked it was that bad. He told us they would schedule the tests and that we could stay in the office as long as we needed. I don’t think we stayed very long.

Four
Barbara was energized by the news that Amanda and Brent were engaged. She was so glad to see them when they came to visit us later in March before our family’s big Passover seder.

I don’t remember anything about the drive home. (It’s, literally, only five minutes.) I remember how hungry I’d been before, but I don’t think we had any dinner. I just remember us sitting on the couch in our den, side by side. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I don’t remember if we told any family that night. (I’m pretty sure I called my mother.) I don’t remember going to sleep either, but I know we did. Then we woke up the next morning and sat on the couch again.

She cried a little. I probably cried more. And then we thought, “We have to do SOMETHING.” So, I called her family doctor and told the receptionist what had happened. My memory of that is that she was quite good on the phone, but that there weren’t any appointments until 9:10am on Thursday. (This was Tuesday morning.) I booked it, but I told her we were five minutes away and that if ANYONE canceled before then, I wanted their appointment and that we could be there on a moment’s notice. That didn’t happen … and I don’t honestly remember how we got through the rest of the day.

By Wednesday, Barbara was yellow with jaundice. More yellow than you can probably imagine. With a sort of golden tinge. I’ve never seen anything like it. Again, I don’t remember how we got through the day. But, on Thursday morning, we saw the doctor. There was nothing, really, that she could do. I think she prescribed something to help Barbara relax. And she got the ball rolling on all the appointments we’d need at the hospital.

Things happened very quickly after that.

Tests and procedures and poking and prodding. Meetings with the oncologist. More scans. A stent to improve liver function. (Jaundice gone!) A biopsy. (100% official now.) Some of the procedures were difficult. Barbara was hospitalized for a few days. It was during that time that Amanda called to say that she and Brent had gotten engaged. You’ve never seen a person’s mood change so quickly and completely as Barbara’s did then!

The tumour was not very large. However, it was in a dangerous position, wrapped around the Portal vein, which made it inoperable. That being the case, Barbara said she didn’t want chemotherapy. Why bother? But her doctor explained that, while it was a long shot, chemo might shrink the tumor enough that they would be able to remove her entire pancreas. She would truly be a diabetic then — that had been a red herring, by the way; it was probably pancreatic cancer all along (the fact that it’s so hard to detect is partly what makes it so deadly) — but at least there was a chance. Only about one in five people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have it discovered early enough that chemo is even an option … so Barbara felt she had to try.

Fierce
The morning after her first chemo session. Barbara had her game face on! She’d been
bloodied and bruised by some of the procedures to get her ready. Her hair, in fact,
is tangled with her own blood. She couldn’t wash it out for a couple more days until a
home care nurse removed all the chemo-related attachments you can see on her chest.

Chemotherapy began on April 6. We really knew nothing about it then, except that chemo makes you nauseas and you lose your hair. They told us the drugs Barbara got wouldn’t cause hair loss, but she was likely to become nauseas — even though (I swear!) she hadn’t thrown up since 1968.

We were told her chemo would be very aggressive; a heavy dose of several drugs, administered over a five-hour period. Then she’d have a “poison baby bottle” full of more drugs attached to her chest that she wore in a sling under her clothes at home for the next 46 hours. This would all repeat every two weeks until she’d had six sessions.

Chemo drugs don’t actually make you sick at the time they’re given. The effects creep up on you over the next few days until they wipe you out. But Barbara never did throw up! She did get very tired, and she  had some other horrible stomach-related side effects. There were good days, too, where friends might come over, or the two of us would go out for lunch, yet there were plenty of days when she could hardly get out of bed or when the other side effects got really awful. Enough that, one time early, and then again after the fifth session in mid June, the oncologist took her off chemo to give her body a break. We were going to take all of July off and then start up again in August with a different combination of drugs. She’d have to have them weekly this time, but a least the new drugs shouldn’t make her so sick.

Gardens
With Josh and family at Edward’s Gardens the day after our appointment
at Princess Margaret Hospital. This would be the last truly care-free day.

During the break, our oncologist referred us to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto for a second opinion. We had an appointment there on July 18. They explained in more detail why the tumour was still inoperable, and they concurred with what had been done in Owen Sound so far, as well as with the new plan for going forward. They had some other suggestions too, but they said Barbara wasn’t sick enough yet for any of their clinical trials.

So, things actually seemed pretty good. Barbara was feeling much better after nearly a month without chemo. But the trip to Toronto exhausted her. She slept for nearly 48 hours when we got back. I slept for nearly 24 hours myself, and I was the healthy one! Still, things didn’t seem too bad. Until, suddenly, they did.

By the end of July, Barbara was no longer feeling sick because of chemo … but she was dying because of cancer.

ToadNear the end, we took Barbara around the grounds behind the hospital in a wheelchair.
Amanda found this toad  in the road. Barbara (and her children) loved little critters.

I’ve often wondered since August if the treatment was worth it. Would things have been more peaceful without the chemo and all its side effects? But, without it, Barbara may not even have gotten those five months. Maybe she woudn’t have felt so sick at first, but she probably would have been in pain more quickly. She never experienced any pain at all until late in July. That’s when they discovered the cancer had spread to her liver.

I think it was for the best that it went so quickly after that.

At least we had time to move up the wedding.

Wedding
Amanda and Brent’s wedding in the chapel at the Owen Sound Hospital was so very lovely.

By then, I was making plans for a wedding and a funeral. I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it. But if you ever have to, I hope you’ll have the same love and support from family and friends that I had.

It made all the difference.

It still does.

Six Months in a Leaky Boat…

I don’t know how much longer I’ll continue to count in months. Maybe up to 24, like a baby? Probably up to 12. We’ll see.

It’s not like I’ve been drowning in sadness. As I’ve said before, it’s still me. I still laugh. I still have fun. I still see, text, and talk to, my family and friends. And for someone who carries a tune as badly as I do, I still do an awful lot of singing out loud when I’m alone. Much of the time, it involves changing the words of songs to incorporate the names of our cats. But don’t worry. If that sounds like I’m losing it, it’s been going on for a long time.

(Speaking of songs, if you’re not around my age and don’t know it, the title of this post comes from a 1982 song by Split Enz … though I always liked this one from 1980 better.)

Still, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. I know that there’s an underlying sadness, probably even depression, pretty much every day. Not enough that I don’t get out of bed in the morning, but certainly enough that I don’t get started on anything in much of a hurry. (Not that I ever really did!)

The sadness can still strike at almost any time. These days, it’s often when I’m cooking something we both used to enjoy. We shared a lot of kitchen duties, so I’m always aware of it when I’m doing the parts that she used to do. And, I’m way more likely to tear up when watching a movie or TV show. I mean, The Kominsky Method was great, but it doesn’t help that Alan Arkin’s wife dies of cancer in the first episode. Seems like an awful lot of people are dying on TV, in movies, and plays these days. I guess they always were, but it didn’t used to affect me the same way.

It’s hard for me to believe it, but yesterday marked six months since Barbara died. Tomorrow will be the first Valentine’s Day without her since our first one together in 1993. Now, I’ll admit that Valentine’s Day has always struck me as a Hallmark holiday … but that doesn’t mean we didn’t do things to mark the occasion. Barbara always believed in marking occasions!

Since we both worked from home, we began to go out for long, late lunches on February 14 instead of going out for dinner. It became a new tradition that we liked a lot. We’d often have the restaurant to ourselves, and it was lovely. This year, I expected I’d, literally, be by myself. Turns out (weather permitting), I’ll be having lunch with one friend, and dinner with three others. Obviously, it won’t be the same. I’ll be thinking of Barbara, and it’ll be strange. And sad. But that’s not always so terrible. As I’ve read a lot lately, “Grief is just love with nowhere to go…”

Over the years, I signed almost every card I gave to Barbara the same way. Didn’t matter if it was a birthday, an anniversary or Valentine’s Day:

“I Love You … Now and Always.”

I do. And I will.

 Present
Pretty sure this is the first present I ever gave to Barbara. Valentine’s Day, 1993.

Early
Us. Much Younger. Very much in love. My brother Jonathan
and Sheri’s wedding at our family cottage in 1997.

Last
Us. Older. Still very much in love. Amanda and Brent’s wedding, in
the hospital in Owen Sound. This is the last picture of us together.

Cards
These are the cards we exchanged last year on Valentine’s Day.

 

 

On The Road Again…

This Friday, my brothers David and Jonathan, Jonathan’s son Jorey, and I will be making the short road trip to Detroit to see the Maple Leafs play the Red Wings. We’ve made a couple of trips like this before, but in the summertime to see the Blue Jays and to visit Cooperstown for Roberto Alomar’s induction.

Jorey
The first picture I ever took with my iPhone. David,
me, Jonathan, and Jorey at a Jays game in 2016.

For me, I’m pretty sure this will be the first time I’ve seen the Maple Leafs on the road. First time I’ve seen them live anywhere since Barbara and I went to a game so long ago that I can’t remember exactly when except that it was at least 2006. It was Montreal at Toronto and she was dressed in a vintage Canadiens sweater, me in vintage Maple Leafs. It’s hard to believe, but I think the  last time I was actually at a hockey game anywhere was in the fall of 2015. Barbara and I were in Boston and the New England Sports Network (NESN) hosted us in a small private box next to their set where I was to be interviewed about my book on Art Ross during the first intermission.

Boston
Photos by Barbara from our box at the game in Boston.

This is my second trip of late. Earlier this month, I spent two weeks in Florida. The weather was perfect, and, as I’ve been telling people, the biggest decision I faced each day was “should I get my tan on the beach or by the pool?” (Sure beats the current dilemma of “should I shovel the driveway now or wait until it’s completely stopped snowing!”)

I rode down with my friend Jeff, who has a place on Anna Marie Island, near Sarasota. He was a great host, and I think I was a good guest. So many people had been telling me after Barbara died that I should get away for a while and lie on a beach somewhere. I’m not sure I actually would have if Jeff hadn’t offered. It really was a wonderful break.

Florida
Me on the street in Ybor City, Tampa, about two weeks ago.

Barbara loved to travel. Me, not so much. And, really, for the stupidest of reasons. I used to say, “I don’t want to go away anywhere if I have to come back.” By that, I meant you spend a week or two away, and then you come home to a pile of bills, maybe or maybe not some household disaster that needs your immediate attention, and definitely a ton of work you need to catch up on. Two days back, and it’s like you were never away. So, why bother? And, let’s be honest, I was always worried about spending the money…

These days, you can pay your bills online and I don’t really have any work to catch up on. (Though I did just recently agree to write some short hockey pieces for a friend whose work I admire.) Even so, as great as the Florida trip really was, it did make me realize all over again how alone I am when I’m at home. (Don’t worry  too much; I’ve got lots of friends looking out for me!)

It felt nice to get away, but it was strange to be on vacation without Barbara. No matter how much I griped about it before agreeing to go somewhere, we always, always, had a great time. Didn’t matter where we went, or how long we stayed. Here are a handful of pictures from some of our trips over the years…

 Calif
The last big trip Barbara and I took was to Los Angeles and San Francisco
two years ago right about now. I’d never been to L.A. before. We’d both
been to San Francisco, including on our honeymoon. This trip was a belated
20th Anniversary / early Barbara milestone birthday present.

Early
We didn’t have to go far to have fun. The top picture is overlooking the Niagara River
at Lewiston during a weekend in Niagara Falls in 1993. The lower picture is an ostrich farm
in Prince Edward County (near Kingston) about 10 years later. It did NOT smell great!

Disney
One of the best trips we ever had was taking Amanda to Disney World in 2000. That’s
me and Amanda in the pool at our hotel on the left and her with Tigger on the right.

Mass
In the acknowledgements to my Art Ross book, I thanked his granddaughter
Valerie  for saving Barbara and me from the worst hotel we ever almost
spent the night in near Williamstown, MA. This is where Valerie took us instead!

Maine
An earlier Ross-related trip. Us with our friend Kathy in Maine.

Chicago
Chicago. Late in August, 2013. We loved it there!

USAF
Cheesy blue screen photos are us! The Red Baron’s Fokker triplane
and Air Force One at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

La Brea
More blue screen fun! The George C. Page Museum at the La Brea tar pits on our
Los Angeles trip. The polar bear is actually real! (Or was.) It’s at the Natural History
Museum in L.A. where we spent an afternoon on a pouring rainy day.

Happy Holidays … And a Better New Year!

I don’t know how many really do or don’t, but I was never a Jewish child that wished he could celebrate Christmas. Wasn’t jealous, or envious, or whatever. (I’m not as an adult either.) I’ve always understood that I live in a country where Christian is the dominant culture. Personally, I like all the Christmas music in stores at this time of year! And I certainly don’t mind if people wish me a Merry Christmas. But I’m Jewish. Given how multi-cultural our continent has become, I generally go with Happy Holidays myself. (Or Happy Birthday, since December 25 is when my brother David was born.)

Hanukkah is a fine little holiday. I certainly enjoyed the presents I got when I was a kid. I still enjoy the gifts I get now. But Hanukkah is not “Jewish Christmas.” It’s a minor holiday in the Jewish year that just happens to be at the same time as Christmas so it gets the attention. (I do believe that  gift-giving has long been a part of Hanukkah, but I’m sure that it’s gone over-the-top in modern times in an effort to keep up with Christmas. Not that I’m really complaining.)

Hanukkah
Presents for the family Hanukkah party at my mother’s house, 1998.

All this being said, I’ve always enjoyed the many Jewish traditions at Christmas. Movies on Christmas Eve! Chinese food! And, for our family during most of my growing-up years, skiing on Christmas Day on slopes that were practically empty and without lift lines!

When Barbara and I very quickly reached the point where we knew that marriage was in our future, she told me she would like to convert. There was never any pressure from me or my family; it was something she wanted to do. The only thing my parents would have asked was that she respect our family traditions. Apparently there’s a relative in my extended family whose non-Jewish wife once shouted, “three cheers for the Baby Jesus!” at a family Hanukkah party. It didn’t go over well! (One added bonus of Barbara becoming Jewish was that there were few decisions for Josh and Amanda about the holidays: Christmas with their father and his family, Hanukkah with their mother and me and my family. The same with Easter and Passover.)

The first Christmas Barbara and I spent together was in 1992. I cooked steaks, peas and mashed potatoes on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we watched Gone With the Wind on television. Not really anyone’s idea of tradition, but certainly something I’ll always remember. The next year, we saw Schindler’s List on December 24 … but it turned out to be the only year we ever saw a movie together on Christmas Eve.

Barbara’s mother very quickly came to love the Jewish traditions of my family. Like Barbara, her mother was an only child and they both enjoyed being part of a large, warm family. Alice would join us for Seders, High Holidays and Hanukkah parties, but she never gave up her Christmases. Why should she?

In 1994, Alice invited Barbara and me to her apartment for Christmas Eve and then back for dinner on Christmas Day. (My parents came too.) Barbara’s father died in November of 1995, and there was no way we’d leave Alice alone for Christmas after that. Christmas Eve at her apartment followed by dinner on Christmas Day in one of Toronto’s finer hotels became our new tradition. After my father died, my mother sometimes joined us. It was always very nice … but Barbara and I did miss the movies!

Xmas
Christmas dinner at the Royal York Hotel, 1999.

After moving to Owen Sound in 2006 (Alice moved up here about 18 months later), we were all invited to Christmas with friends a time or two, but as Alice’s health declined, Barbara and I began making Christmas dinner for her at our house. Even after she passed away in 2012, we continued to make a small Christmas dinner for ourselves. We didn’t exchange gifts, but I always made Barbara a Christmas stocking. It usually consisted of some chocolates, an orange, and a special-edition magazine. Not much, but she looked forward to it each year. I did too. It’s definitely going to be strange this year without that.

So, Happy Holidays everyone and may 2019 be a better year for us all. I’ve been very touched over the last little while by the reception these personal stories have received. I don’t know how often I’ll keep it up going forward. My feeling is, I won’t write much about sports – unless someone is paying me to do it! – but I will continue to write, so you never know what you might see in these pages.

Us in the Early Days

Today – December 12, 2018 – marks four months since Barbara died. It’s nine months to the day she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s hard to believe. (An expression Barbara always liked was: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana!”) But, I guess, if I’m really being honest, the hours mostly seem to drag, even as the days race by.

So, how’m I doing, you may wonder? Fine, I’ll tell you … because, in the big picture, I believe that’s true. But it’s been hard. It’s not so much about being sad or lonely (which, of course, I am). It’s that it’s all so strange. And so permanent. Some days are worse than others, and there’s no real rhyme or reason. (Riding alone in the car is often hard.) I’d been attributing my recent melancholy to the darker days, colder weather and the holidays, but a friend who lost his wife to cancer several years ago mentioned that after three months, the “have to” tasks have mainly been done, and you really begin to realize what’s changed. I suppose it’s all of those things.

But the point of this isn’t  to be maudlin. It is, in fact, to make a point…

Many of you have been a tremendous help to me in ways large and small. And, of course, I can’t speak for everyone who’s experienced a loss. Still, I have noticed some things. My advice to those who may feel awkward around the bereaved would be this: don’t be afraid to talk to them. Yes, it can be hard to know what to say, but even something as simple as “we’re thinking about you,” has been nice. If that seems too general, try asking a specific question. For me, you can ask me anything. Talking about it all has been very helpful. For others, a simple question like, “What’s your favorite memory?” (although, for me, it’s hard to pick just one!) or “How did you two meet?” (or an appropriate equivalent) might be better.

And that’s my long-winded way of getting around to the story of how Barbara and I met.

 Launch
This is the first picture we have of the two of us together,
at the launch for my first book on November 1, 1992.

Many of you know the story already, but a lot don’t. I won’t go into too much detail, but we met when Barbara was hired to edit my first book, the novel “Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.” She was a strange choice, as to that point Barbara had only worked on non-fiction. But Barbara and Malcolm Lester, who would publish the book, had become friends over a mutual love of classic American Westerns. Something about the “men in a men’s world” aspect of my story (I would come to refer to it as an “Eastern”) made Malcolm think Barbara would be good for it. I certainly think she made the book better, yet I know she had her doubts. But we had so much fun working together! And talking together. We just clicked. Despite the many differences in our backgrounds (not to mention the 16-year age gap), we saw things the same way. Right from the beginning, we were finishing each other’s sentences. So often we seemed to know exactly what the other person was going to say even before they said it.

That never stopped. It’s what I miss the most.

I still talk to her. Sometimes. She’s yet to answer.

Anyway… as I’ve written before, it was Malcolm Lester and Lester Patrick who brought us together. Lester Patrick was the star of my story, along with other real-life hockey pioneers Frank Patrick (Lester’s brother),  Newsy Lalonde and Cyclone Taylor. Barbara’s knowledge of hockey was pretty limited at the time. She was raised by two parents from Montreal, and her understanding of hockey was, “Canadiens, good. Maple Leafs, bad.” But Barbara loved history, and historic photographs, and soon she could pick out Lester Patrick in a picture from just about any period of his life.

Three
That’s me, Lester Patrick, and Doug Gilmour … all about 29 years old in these photos.

Barbara was even less of a baseball fan before I took her to her first game, but in the first two years that we were together the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series and the Leafs reached the Conference finals in two straight seasons. She thought being a sports fan was easy. You just cheered for winning teams! So, in addition to Lester Patrick, she quickly became a big fan of Doug Gilmour. Tom Henke and Paul Molitor too.

When we were working on Hockey Night, I often brought her pictures of the players and other things I’d found in my research. Shortly after the book was launched, we went together to Ottawa and Renfrew, where most of the story takes place. The pictures that follow are among the very first ones in our first photo album together…

Parliament
Barbara’s father was in the army and she moved A LOT in her early years.
She lived in Ottawa from ages 10 to 22 and met her first husband there.
So she’d been in the Canadian Capital many, many times…

Ottawa
… but she hadn’t seen the places I would take her! This is the O’Connor House at Nepean
and O’Connor in downtown Ottawa. (Not sure if it’s still standing.) I was pretty certain this had originally been the boarding house where Cyclone Taylor lived when he first came to Ottawa in 1907. I stayed there when I was doing research, so we went to see it.

OBrien1
The O’Brien Apartments on the main street in Renfrew had once been the
O’Brien Opera House. (M.J. O’Brien, who financed the team with his son Ambrose,
was the true millionaire of the Renfrew Millionaires hockey team.) That’s Barbara
you can barely make out standing in front.

OBrien2
The tiles on which Barbara was standing date back to the year the Opera House opened.

Ritzas
Barbara is sitting with Margaret Ritza and her husband Larry. Margaret was the granddaughter of M.J. O’Brien. Larry’s father ran a pharmacy in town and was involved with local hockey right back to the days of the Millionaires. He was pleased to see that his father had a small part in my book. The Ritzas ran a B&B in their home and they were very helpful in introducing me around Renfrew when I stayed with them on my research trips.

Barbara’s First Story

The honest truth is (even though I was just looking at this comic in Barbara’s collection a few weeks ago), when I got the idea last week to do this as a story, I actually thought the issue was from November of 1958. Turns out, it’s from May. So, the anniversary isn’t quite as timely as I originally believed. But, hey, 60 years ago is still 60 years ago. (And if you want your money back, sue me!)

KK Cover

As a girl, Barbara loved comic books and paper dolls. (As an adult, she still loved comic books and paper dolls!) Katy Keene supplied both, as the comics usually came with a paper doll you could cut out. Katy is a young woman who is both a model and an aspiring actress. She has an agent,  a Ken doll-looking boy friend, and a little sister named Sis. The great gimmick about these comics was, the creator, Bill Woggon, invited readers to send in stories and illustrations. If he liked them, he used them for the comic book.

A 10-year-old Barbara – Barbara Embury at the time – sent in a story while she was living on the army base where her father served in Ft. Churchill, Manitoba. It became the first thing she ever had published! (Plenty more would follow, but not for another 30 years or so!) These were the days of Sputnik and the Space Race … and Barbara assured me that she knew the moon was NOT made of green cheese! I thought I’d share the story with you today. I’ve indicated near the top of Page 1 where she gets her credit, and although her father had been transferred and she was living in Ottawa by the time this issue came out, the Canadian Army forwarded her letters from kids all over North America!

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Me and the Movies

Well, back to it. For today, anyway…

Because it’s been a while (and because I’ve added some new names to the mailing list), perhaps a reminder. This web site was set up four years ago. For most of that time, I wrote a story nearly every week; usually about some aspect of hockey history, or baseball history. Sometimes the stories had a personal angle, but often they were just quirky things I’d come across in my work. Since Barbara got sick, I’ve only posted four stories. None since things took their turn for the worst in late July.

Recently, I’ve gotten back to some hockey writing for jobs I’d already contracted to do. Everyone was wonderful about telling me to take all the time I needed, but I didn’t want these things out there looming, so I’ve started them. It’s been harder than I expected. (Don’t worry, Scholastic, I’ll be delivering it close to on time and up to the usual standards!) The truth is, quirky hasn’t been as much fun lately, and I’m pretty burned out on hockey. Still, I guess it’s good that the urge to write is strong some days. And I do want to get to certain things that are more personally meaningful to me. Not sure if this qualifies, exactly, but I was thinking about all this while I was out for a walk this morning (yesterday as you read this), and I wanted to get it down.

DVDs
Our DVD collection. Until recently, we had nearly as many VHS tapes too.

Movies have always been a big part of my life. They were for Barbara too. In our early days together, we saw everything! People who knew us would often ask if something new was worth seeing because they knew we’d have seen it already. But over the years, we started cutting back. Movies got too expensive, and, too often, not good enough. (I’m not a fan of comic books and superheroes or big-action-blow’em-ups.) And, really, it may have been more of an early warning sign than either of us realized a year or two ago when Barbara started to lose interest in movies even after expressing a desire to see them. But I don’t like to think too much about that.

I’ve been going to the movies for longer than I can even remember. I know (at least I think I’ve been told) that the first movie I saw was Mary Poppins. My parents loved movies, but given that Mary Poppins came out in 1964, I have a hard time believing they took me to see it when I was only 1 year old. Perhaps it was still playing somewhere in Toronto a few years later. I do remember seeing Oliver! in a giant downtown theater. It came out in 1968, a little before I turned 5, but I’m guessing I saw it some time in the spring of 1969. I still watch at least some of it whenever I notice it’s on TV. I must have seen The Love Bug around the same time, and I also retain a warm spot in my heart for Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle.

Posters
Jaws was my first grown-up movie. Ben Hur was Barbara’s. For Amanda, it was Titanic.

I saw a lot of Disney live-action films in the early 1970s, and others like them. Some have been remade in recent years, but I’m not sure that too many critics were impressed at the time. Still, they were fun for a young kid.

My first truly grown up movie was Jaws, which I saw very shortly after its release in June of 1975. I went with a few friends from school to see it at a matinee a day or two after the end of Grade 6. I was 11, although some in the group were probably 12. It was terrifying, but thrilling too! I know I didn’t sleep very well that night and I distinctly remember keeping my arms and legs underneath the covers. (Everyone knows covers can save you from ghosts and bogeymen and things, so it felt a lot safer to keep my limbs tucked under the sheets and blanket rather than dangling off the side of the bed.) Still, seeing Jaws did NOT keep me out of the water at the cottage that summer … so take that!

Bayfield
Bayfield Mall only had two cinemas back in my father’s day. It’s closed down now.

Around that same time, my father and a friend opened the Bayfield Mall Cinema in Barrie. (Until then, Barrie only had two old downtown theaters: the Roxy and the Imperial.) For a movie-lover, having a father who owned a theater was like being a kid in a candy store! In point of fact, we had to pay for any popcorn and candy we wanted – Dad and Mr. Hamat didn’t own the concession rights – but I got to see a lot of free movies over the next few years. They never got a lot of first-run films, so I saw some strange things, and some older stuff too, including What’s Up Doc from 1972 which is still one of my favorite comedies. I also saw Gone With the Wind with my mother on one of its re-releases circa 1976. And the big hits of the day did eventually play there. I definitely saw Rocky more than once at my Dad’s theater during the summer of 1977.

Barbara and I passed on our love of movies to Amanda. Her childhood coincided with the rebirth of classic Disney cartoons such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, but one of my best Amanda movie memories is introducing her to Buster Keaton on television. My mother had taken my brothers and me to see Charlie Chaplin movies as young kids, and I was sure Amanda would enjoy Keaton. Barbara was less sure, but I was right! Amanda was so young (only about 5 years old) that we had to read her the title cards, but she loved “Busty”. Didn’t matter that the movies were black-and-white and silent; they’re great and Keaton’s comedy is classic.

Comedians
Charlie Chaplin (left) was my introduction to silent films, though I’ve come
to enjoy the movies of Buster Keaton (center) and Harold Lloyd (right) more.

This past month or so, I’ve found myself going to the movies again. Sometimes with friends; sometimes alone. And I’ve been enjoying it. I’m sure Barbara would be happy to know that.

Babe Siebert’s Sad Story

The death of former NHL goalie Ray Emery, who drowned in Lake Ontario at Hamilton this weekend at the age of 35, brought to mind the deaths of two other old-time hockey players. I’ve written before about the accident that killed hockey star Hod Stuart in the summer of 1907. Like Stuart, Babe Siebert left a young family behind when he also drowned at the age of 35. Siebert was swimming in Lake Huron near the town of St. Joseph, Ontario, on August 25, 1939.

Babe Siebert (whose given names are usually listed in hockey records as Albert Charles, but whose birth certificate and marriage documents record his name as Charles Albert) is not a well-known name today. He was a big star in the 1920s and ’30s and would later be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. But that was all a long time ago…

Gazette

Briefly, Babe Siebert was a star forward with the Montreal Maroons from 1925 to 1932, helping the second-year team win the Stanley Cup in his rookie season of 1925–26. He later played right wing on The S-Line (or Triple-S Line) with fellow future Hall of Famers Nels Stewart and Hooley Smith. Though lacking the size of a modern power forward (Siebert was pretty big for his era at 5’10” and 182 pounds) he was as tough as he was talented. A game against the Maroons was usually a rough one.

Playing with Boston in 1933–34, Siebert was moved to defense by Art Ross when Eddie Shore was suspended following the Ace Bailey Incident. Siebert soon became an All-Star at his new position, but even so, the Bruins traded him to the Canadiens before the 1936-37 season. He won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP that year.

Journal

“On the ice he’s a tough hombre,” wrote Harold Parrott of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, on January 19, 1937, “and Lionel Conacher of the Maroons says, he can’t be trusted with a stick in his hands. Off the ice he’s as gentle as a lamb, caring for his crippled wife. At home games at the Forum the Babe is always first dressed after the battle, and he hurries to carry his wife to their automobile. He always installs her, long before game time, in a comfortable seat behind the goal that the Canadiens will defend in two of the three periods – so that she can watch his play more closely.”

According to Siebert’s biography on the Hockey Hall of Fame web site, his wife (Bernice) had been paralyzed from the waist down after complications during the birth of their second child.

“‘A tough guy,’ they called the Babe,” said a piece in the Montreal Gazette by Harold McNamara the day after Siebert died, “but they didn’t see him working around the house, an apron draped over his suit, doing work that his wife was unable to do. They didn’t see him playing with his two children, showing pictures of them around the dressing room.”

Marriage

What makes Siebert’s death so tragic was that – having been named the Canadiens new head coach in June of 1939 – he was on a short vacation with his two girls, aged 10 and 11, at the time. He’d brought them to his parents home in Zurich, Ontario, towards the end of August a few days before an 80th birthday party for his father.

On the afternoon of August 25, 1939, Siebert, his two daughters, two nieces and a local friend, Clayton Hoffman, were enjoying a day at the beach. When it was time to go, and Siebert called in the children, one of them left an inflated inner tube floating in the lake. “Babe then went to get the tube,” Hoffman explained. “But the wind was carrying it along parallel to the shoreline and it was soon apparent he was in difficulty. I was standing on the shore fully dressed when I heard his cries for help.”

Hoffman went in after Siebert. He got within about 35 feet. “Before I could reach him, Babe had gone down for the last time.”

Efforts to recover Siebert’s body took three days. He was eventually found by his brother Frank and another local man in 150 feet of water about 40 feet from the spot where he’d disappeared. A funeral and burial took place in Kitchener, Ontario, on August 30.

“He was not only a fine man from a point of view of hockey but he was a model father and a fine husband to his sick wife,” NHL president Frank Calder had said upon learning of Siebert’s death. “He was a model of self-sacrifice. He was not the kind of player who made money in the winter and spent it in the summer. Siebert was a conscientious man who worked all year round. There is nothing too fine that can be said about him.”

A day before the funeral, the Montreal Canadiens announced that Art Ross had proposed a benefit game with the Bruins for before the season to raise money for Siebert’s family. It would expand into a game between the NHL All-Stars and the Canadiens played on October 29, 1939. The All-Stars scored a 5-2 victory in front of only 6,000 people. Still, it was said that the goal of raising $15,000 would be met.

I haven’t been able to learn much about Bernice Siebert’s life after her husband’s death, but she did live to see the Babe voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in June of 1964 and officially inducted that August. She passed away in Kitchener on November 24, 1964 at age 58. In addition to a brother and three sisters, she was survived by her two daughters and six grandchildren.

Obit

Fun With Another’s Family Tree

The very first thing I wrote in my first post to this web site four years ago said: “My favorite part of writing is doing the research. I love to look things up.” That was true back in 1990 when I began working on my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. It remains true to this day. It was never more true than when I was working on Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. It was never more fun either!

When I set out to write a biography of Art Ross, I had no idea where it would lead. I certainly had no inkling of the family saga I would get caught up in. The Ross genealogy – even without any connection to hockey – was simply fascinating! I have already written about my efforts to track down a correct birth date for Art Ross, but that’s hardly all…

When I first connected with Art Ross III in the fall of 2005, I had already stumbled onto the fact (via the 1901 Canadian census, which had only recently come on line) that when Art Ross was growing up in Montreal in the late 1890s and early 1900s, his mother was married to a man who was not his father. This other man was Peter McKenzie.

Maggie Peter
When she was young, the future Margaret Ross/Maggie McKenzie was said to be
the most beautiful woman in the Saguenay region. The young Peter McKenzie
was a handsome man of his era.

The story, as Art III heard it from his Uncle John, was that Thomas Barnston Ross had left his family “early and penniless.” While admitting that his father had not welcomed questions about what happened, John Ross had formed his own opinions. Barney – as those of us who have researched the heck out of this family call him – “might have (probably) taken his own life.”

Art and I soon discovered that wasn’t true. Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company (Thomas B. Ross was a fur factor) note that he died in 1930. Yet those same records said that Barney’s widow, Marguerite (Margaret) McLeod Ross – we call her Maggie – had married Peter McKenzie (who was himself a high-ranking HBC official). But given that they were married in December of 1895, Maggie was obviously not a widow!

1891
The Ross family circa 1891. The bearded man in the middle is Thomas Barnston Ross.
A young Art Ross leans against his shoulder.

As Art and I puzzled about this and other family mysteries (we communicated mostly by email – but often!), we were soon joined in our online endeavours by Serge Harvey. Serge is a distant relative of Art’s through Barney’s father’s family. Serge later connected us with Helen Webster, granddaughter of Thomas R. Ross, who was an older brother of the hockey Art Ross. (I’ve yet to mention here that Barney and Maggie had 10 children!)

Both the Ross and McLeod families had been prominent in the history of Quebec’s Saguenay district. Serge had found all sorts of fascinating family history in the Quebec archives. Helen had access to letters written by Maggie herself. So, eventually, we were able to put together bits and pieces of the story of a marriage that fell apart.

1901
The Ross family circa 1900. Barney is out of the picture. The bearded man
in the middle this time is Peter McKenzie. Art Ross sits in front of him.

Still, there was one thing we could never determine. Though Maggie and Barney both remarried, had they ever actually been legally divorced? Art and I both came to believe that Maggie had to be a bigamist – though it always seemed odd to me that she and Peter McKenzie moved so well through Montreal society if that was the case.

Serge searched even more diligently through Canadian divorce records than I did. (It was very difficult to get a divorce in Canada right up until 1968.) He wrote to church officials and searched through provincial records in Quebec. Nothing! He also concluded that Barney and Maggie must have been bigamists. While I don’t believe I have any emails from Helen stating it so bluntly, I think she felt the same way too.

Marriage
Peter McKenzie married Maggie on December 26, 1895, in Naughton, ON near Sudbury.
This is a segment of the record of their marriage from the Ontario Provincial Archives.

But enter a new character in our modern Ross family adventure. Darlene Ackerland is a descendant of Charles Ross, another of Maggie and Barney’s 10 children. In October of 2017, she connected with Art III as a DNA match through the Ancestry.com web site. Darlene has been a dynamo in chasing down her family story!

Now, admittedly, I am not actually a member of the Ross family. My interest is a lot more narrow than the others and when it all became a little overwhelming for me, I asked kindly to be removed from the flurry of new email activity. Still, I did say that if Darlene ever came across a divorce record for Maggie and Barney, I wanted to know about it…

Well, last Thursday, Darlene wrote the gang (me included) saying she thought she had found it. The names – as indicated in a hint through Ancestry – were a perfect match … but the location was odd. North Dakota?

Divorce 1
From the records of the Ross divorce, housed in
the archives at North Dakota State University.

“What do you all think?” Darlene asked.

It so clearly seemed that it must be them, and yet I wondered to the group: “Do we think they were divorced in North Dakota? Like the way people used to go to Reno?”

Now it was time for my research skills, although it turned out to be pretty simple. A few key terms on a Google search, and I discovered that North Dakota in general, and Fargo in particular, was the Divorce Capital from 1866 to 1899. People from all over the world flocked to Fargo for divorces. An entire industry sprung up around it. It wasn’t cheap, but it was fairly easy – and there was even a clever way to get around the three-month residency requirement. People would apparently take a train to Fargo, leave their luggage in a hotel for 90 days, and then return to pay the bill and collect their divorce.

Divorce 2
More from the records of the Ross divorce.

Serge wrote to North Dakota State University for copies of the divorce proceedings, which arrived as pdfs by email on Monday. It really is “our” Maggie and Barney, with Maggie initiating the proceedings against a reluctant husband. And so it was that in January of 1895, they really were legally divorced. No bigamy. Instead, confirmed drunkenness, cruelty and possibly even adultery. Wow!

Mr. Boucher & Mrs. Byng

The NHL Awards were handed out last night, as they have been, in some form or another, since the end of the 1923-24 season. That’s when the Hart Trophy for MVP was presented for the first time. The Lady Byng Trophy, which was first awarded for the 1924-25 season, is the NHL’s second-oldest individual honour. That means there has been an award for “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability” (as the league describes it) for longer than there’s been one for the best goalie, best rookie, best defenseman or leading scorer. Still, the NHL has had an odd relationship with this award.

“We want a hard, aggressive team with no Lady Byngers,” Conn Smythe is reputed to have said. (And if he didn’t say that exactly, he said many things very close to that while he was rebuilding the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 1946-47 season.) Don Cherry felt the same way when he was coaching the Boston Bruins. It’s said that Jean Ratelle apologized to Cherry after winning the award for the 1975-76 season, although Cherry really did appreciate that Ratelle – who had joined the Bruins from the New York Rangers earlier that season – played a tough game while keeping it clean.

Lady Byng
Portrait of Lady Byng, 1917.

“Sure, it’s nice to win it,” said Alex Delvecchio when he won the Lady Byng Trophy for the third time in 1969. Then he added a comment that just wouldn’t fly today. “But the name takes a lot away from it and what it’s meant to be.”

Though the game was certainly as rough in Frank Boucher’s era as it was at any time it’s been played, we’ll assume that this New York Rangers star of the 1920s and ’30s felt differently when he was given the original Lady Byng Trophy to keep in 1935 after winning it seven times in eight seasons.

Regardless of the mocking her trophy has taken, there is little doubt that Lady Byng was a hockey fan. She and Lord Byng attended many Ottawa Senators games when they were living in the Canadian capital while he was Governor-General from 1921 to 1926. Even when they were back in England, the couple continued to follow the Senators on their way to the 1927 Stanley Cup. Lady Byng sent a telegram of congratulations after Ottawa’s victory that year.

1927 CupThe Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1927.

It’s often been written that Lady Byng was so impressed by Frank Boucher that she decided to give him the trophy. Boucher led the NHL in assists three times and was top-10 in points seven times in nine seasons from 1926-27 to 1934-35 while never accumulating more than 18 penalty minutes. However, it’s pretty hard to believe that Lady Byng continued to follow the NHL closely enough from England for the next eight years to have been aware of Boucher’s exploits. That being said, it really is true that she agreed to let Boucher keep the original trophy and donate another. Here’s how it actually happened.

Despite having already won the award six times, it was claimed that Frank Boucher had never actually seen the Lady Byng Trophy before winning it for the seventh time in 1935. Shortly after the NHL season ended, Boucher was back in his hometown of Ottawa for a charity game involving local pros from the NHL and the minors. (The original Senators had moved to St. Louis that year.) The game was played on April 16, 1935. NHL president Frank Calder was there that night and he presented the trophy to Boucher as part of the evening’s festivities. It wasn’t Boucher’s to keep just yet, but the wheels were in motion.

ComicThe Ottawa Journal, March 16, 1935.

In the Ottawa Journal that same April 16, 1935, Sports Editor Walter Gilhooly wrote an open letter to Lady Byng. In what was really just his column for the day, Gilhooly recaps the history of the trophy since its donation. “Between 1925 and 1935 lie 11 full hockey seasons,” he writes, “and as I have mentioned, three players [Frank Nighbor twice, Billy Burch and Joe Primeau] held it through four of them. What disposition of the trophy was made through the other seven? Well, Lady Byng, it may be difficult for you to believe since you are so far away from the centre of things – I mean the hockey centre, of course – but one single player claimed it in those seven years, and that player is Frankie Boucher.…”

Gilhooly
Segments of Walter Gilhooly’s column. The Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1935.

Gilhooly  adds that, “the suggestion so often made, and that I would like to convey to you is this – that the cup be withdrawn from competition and your trustees be instructed to turn it over to Frank Boucher to become his permanent possession.”

It’s not clear if Gilhooly was aware of it or not, but Lady Byng was visiting Washington when his letter appeared in the Ottawa Journal. Upon the contents being communicated to her, she got in touch with officials at Rideau Hall and wrote that she would be pleased to see the trophy given to Boucher. Colonel O’Connor of Government House then contacted Frank Ahearn, the former owner of the Senators who was serving as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa. Ahearn got in touch with Frank Calder, who made it happen.

New x 2
Articles announcing the arrival of the new Lady Byng Trophy in the
Winnipeg Tribune and the Ottawa Journal, August 13, 1935.

Although Calder couldn’t be there himself, Frank Boucher was given the Lady Byng Trophy for his permanent possession on April 25, 1935, at a civic banquet honouring four Ottawa-born players who had just won the Stanley Cup as members of the Montreal Maroons. By August 12, 1935, a new Lady Byng Trophy sent from England had arrived at Frank Calder’s office in Montreal. Frank Boucher may well have won that one too during the 1935-36 season, except that in June of 1935, he wrote to Calder to say that he would like to withdraw from further competition for the trophy.

“It’s just the sort of sporting thing that Frank would do,” said Calder.

Though there’s no record of it, Lady Byng likely approved of that too.